In my other Spanish class, the one where I bombard my instructor with questions about things I see and experience here in Oaxaca an hour at a time, we were talking about race and class, and I mentioned that most Oaxacans seem rather Darwinian in their approach to everyday life. I explained that most people seem to think it is unusual that I return to volunteer for Mexicans every summer when I could be: 1. Earning money in the US at US rates and 2. At least volunteering for my own country. We talked about why people from the US tend to volunteer at high rates and whether Oaxacans perhaps volunteer in different ways.
My patient teacher also reminded me of the difference between the cities and many of the more indigenous and traditional towns where community service is a part of the governance structure, but it is a person’s job for a set period of time. Additionally, he mentioned that males must serve in the military upon graduation, but because there is no current conflict they often end up doing community service: cleaning up areas, painting, etc.
Finally, he mentioned the Tequio. The tequio is the way some cooperatives are maintained (as this sign depicts), everyone bears a share of the responsibility. It is also used for community clean up days to bring people together to make the work lighter.
In the end, perhaps the reason volunteering in Mexico may seem so odd to Oaxacans is that it appears to have few personal or national benefits. However, this is an inaccurate appearance. The compensation is manifold.